Matt Pearl

One of my children was legitimately offended this past week, and as a father I was truly proud.

My son was upset that a movie, one adapted from a popular book, had changed and omitted several portions of the original novel. That’s right: my kid was mad about a Hollywood studio changing a perfectly good story in an effort to appeal to moviegoers.

Put a star on the calendar. Pin it in his scrapbook. Just don’t let me forget this moment.

For his sake, I was a bit saddened by the event. He had been so looking forward to enjoying the film – we wouldn’t let him watch the movie until we had finished the book completely – and to see him rolling his eyes and voicing his frustrations was at moments a pitiful sight.

Now, if my desire had been to teach my kids a pessimistic lesson about life’s disappointments, this might have served as the perfect teachable moment. Instead, we tried to accentuate the positive side of his conundrum.

‘It’s just like that with movies and books,’ his mother told him. ‘A movie just can’t be long enough to give as many details as the book could give.’

The lasting message for the day, we hoped, was that a person can love the story the way a book tells it, but also enjoy the entertainment value of the movie that is based–often loosely, or even irresponsibly– on the written story.

It’s like enjoying a homemade dinner: no fast-food version of the family meal will ever truly measure up, but at times it will suffice. Just because the drive-thru offering doesn’t match good, home-cooked food, it doesn’t mean that a quick cheeseburger now and then doesn’t hit the spot.

But I am glad that my kids seem to think books tell better stories than movies, for sure. They will, of course, continue to anticipate the watching of movies based upon the books they have read, and they will time and again be disappointed by the cinematic interpretations of their favorite novels. It’s just part of life when you enjoy reading.

I had the same experience when I was a kid, but often I experienced it in the reverse of what my kids are seeing. On several occasions, I had first enjoyed a movie adaptation, only to later find that the book told a far better story. The Wizard of Oz and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory were movies I had seen, but when I read the stories on which they had been based, I had the chance to enjoy a far superior narrative.

Then, a couple of decades later, I stood at the front of my first English classroom and determined fairly early in the experience that a large portion of my professional life would be directed toward convincing kids that they should read books. The results of my efforts to promote literacy varied kid-to-kid.

Some were already readers, having long before entering my high school classroom cultivated a love for reading. In the cases of such children, language arts education ended up being a pretty manageable endeavor.

Others, however, saw no practicality, no entertainment and therefore no use for reading recreationally. And literacy is not a skill that comes to everyone so naturally, either, so others still struggled to read quickly or comfortably enough to make it a ‘fun’ activity.

Public school works just that way: you take who you have, you take them how you find them, and you try to move everyone a few steps forward on the educational scale. Some smile and do what you say, and others kick and scream. Hey, I could never make everyone love to read, but I could expose students to good literature; along the way, a few have really taken to the written word, and have found a book or two that they enjoyed.

It is my hope that those kids–now adults, living in their own homes and many of them bringing up their own families–occasionally shake their fists at the screen and declare, unapologetically:

‘That’s not the way it happened in the book!’

Matt Pearl owns and operates newspapers in King City, Albany and Grant City.